VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2001 ( John Paul II raised his voice to plead for peace in the Balkans, on a day marred by clashes between the Macedonian army and Albanian rebels.

The Holy Father made his appeal today when he received, in separate audiences, delegations from Macedonia, Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia.

The delegations included representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and politicians celebrating the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, evangelizers of the Slav peoples, which was observed Thursday by the Eastern Churches that follow the Julian calendar.

"Given the tensions and conflicts in your region, and the threat that they represent to individuals and society, the path traced by Sts. Cyril and Methodius remains as valid as ever," the Pontiff said to the Macedonian delegation.

"In the search for a just and overall peace, those now in positions of authority and responsibility for the destiny of your region can find powerful inspiration in the Gospel values proclaimed by the two holy brothers," the Pope said.

The clash between the army and rebels in Vaksince was part of an offensive that began Thursday in an attempt to dislodge the rebels from villages near Macedonia´s border with Kosovo.

A policeman said the fighting left dozens of people dead; he called them rebels and "terrorists." Other reports mentioned up to 60 civilians killed.